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Posts published in April 2013

First take: A gov candidate


A GOV CANDIDATE With the presumption that Oregon Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber will be seeking re-election next year, and the high improbability of serious primary opposition, the question has been floating in the air for a while: Who's his Republican opponent? Well, one has surfaced: Jon Justesen, a rancher from small Sherman County whose political experience consists of losing a county commission race there. He's first in, but don't expect he'll be the last: He's pro-choice and pro-immigrant and pro-sales tax. This may be an indicator, though, of how difficult Republicans will find corralling a truly credible challenger.

Real ed reform

carlson CHRIS


Every so often my publisher walks up to me with a challenge to get beyond blanket criticisms and propose constructive alternatives that will help resolve a contested matter. So it was with the so-called Luna Laws, all of which were criticized harshly by many writers as well as me.

As the son of two public school teachers, I have some opinions but by no means am I claiming to be an expert on educational reform.

The following reflects the Ten Carlson Rules for producing better Students:

Rule #1) Instill a writing discipline, starting in the 1st Grade. A student should have to write something each day. First graders have to write a sentence; sixth graders a paragraph; seventh and above a page a day.
a. Write, write, write----there is no substitute.
b. Keep a daily diary.
c. Write complete sentences---no short cuts!

Rule #2) No cell phones, ipads, etc. should be permitted during the school day. It’s not just that they facilitate distracting behavior; it’s that they encourage the use of texting, which with all its abbreviations is going to be
the death of the English language yet. All parents should examine their kids text messages and odds are they will need an interpretation or a “texting” dictionary. The phones should be surrendered at the door of the school and returned at the end of the day.

Rule #3) From the 7th Grade on students should be part of a teacher’s evaluation. Students have a fair idea which teachers care and which are really teaching. Conversely, the proposed Luna law requirement that parents be part of the evaluation process should be dropped. Far too many parents
either don’t care or simply don’t have the time. To make them a mandatory part of a teacher’s evaluation would be counter-productive in many cases.

Rule #4) Better define the Core Body of Knowledge. As the nation shifts to more and more national standardized testing, in fairness to the student as well as parents wishing to help, the education establishment has to reach a consensus on what constitutes the Core that has to be mastered. (more…)


rainey BARRETT


If pressed for the most apt definition of the word “contradiction,” there’s no better one in our times than the Republican far right. What passes for philosophy with too many denizens of that political swamp is espousing one set of ideals while working feverishly against them – wrapping oneself in the law and our founding documents while deliberately attacking both.

For many years, the clearest example of these philosophical cheap shots have been ceaseless attacks on women and the extremely personal topic of abortion. While decrying the intrusion of all forms of government in our private lives, these same voices have demanded an agency of government be represented in gynecological examining rooms where only physicians and their patients belong. To be in the home as a family struggles with intimate – and completely private – decisions. The total contrariness of that position is a hallmark of the far right.

Likewise, voting rights. The assurance of the individual franchise – guaranteed since our beginnings – has become another example of complete contradiction with a sizeable portion of the Republican right. More than a dozen states under GOP political control have tried to legislatively abridge voting access for all but themselves. Some have done so with new laws sure to be challenged. Several bills have even been introduced in Congress to do the same. While loudly proclaiming the polling privilege as “the cornerstone of our liberties,” some of the same voices have been attempting to exclude Americans who don’t “think” as they do. Or have a different skin color.

Now comes religion – the newest outright challenge to a most basic right granted to all of us in the Bill of Rights. The prohibition can’t be clearer:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

In North Carolina – where Republicans control the legislature – one of their number dropped a bill in the House basket to “establish Christianity as the state religion.” While a number of Republicans signed on as co-sponsors, the Speaker of the House stopped formal introduction. This time.

So, were these GOPers just a few nuts? Will we see similar attempts elsewhere? Is there a constituency for this abortive – and patently illegal – challenge to our Bill of Rights? One answer may surprise you. A new national HuffingtonPost/YouGov poll found 34% sampled favored establishing Christianity as the official state religion where they lived. Among those who called themselves Republican, the total was 55%. More than half! In another finding, 46% of Republicans supported officially changing our federal Constitution to allow it. (more…)

Idaho 100: Now in Kindle

Idaho 100

Idaho 100: The people who most influenced the Gem State, published in print last fall, is now available in the Kindle e-book format (via

The 100 entries (and the other parts of the book) are a particularly good match for an electronic reader, read in pieces at a time. Even if you already have a print copy, you'll want the e-book too for more mobile reading options.

Keep watch for some more Idaho 100 news in the coming weeks.

A tale of two budgets

trahant MARK


President Barack Obama’s budget request for 2014 does not roll back austerity. But it would significantly shift resources, adding money to important programs, and protecting much of Indian Country from government contraction.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs budget request is $2.6 billion, an increase of $31.3 million over what Congress enacted in 2012.

“The president’s budget request for Indian Affairs reflects his firm commitment to keeping our focus on strengthening and supporting tribal nations, and protecting Indian Country,” Kevin K. Washburn, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs reported last week. “While realizing the benefits from improvements to Indian Affairs program management, the request supports our mission to federally recognized tribes, particularly in the areas of trust lands and natural resource protection. The request also promotes economic development, improves education, and strengthens law enforcement and justice administration.”

There’s a lot to like in this year’s budget request. There would be additional money for law enforcement, police, courts, and expanded domestic violence services. There would more money for trust management and real estate. And, most important, there would be additional investments in the Bureau of Indian Education (such as a $3 million scholarship fund for post-graduate education in sciences).

To my way of thinking this budget does not represent what kind of education funding is needed. Indian Country represents a young population that I think should be an essential part of balancing the country’s demographics (basically the retirement of the baby boom generation plus a longer life expectancy). But that’s a bigger issue than this budget request. (A good detailed example of this is in The Washington Post’s wonkblog where Ezra Klein writes that the federal government spends $7 on the elderly for every $1 spend on kids.)

The funding picture is similar at the Indian Health Service, basically, a request for more, even if not enough. The president’s budget calls for $4.430 billion in direct spending, and a total increase of $243.6 million over what Congress enacted in 2012. “The request includes funds to support activities identified by the tribes as budget priorities including increasing resources for pay costs, funding medical inflationary costs for the Purchased/Referred Care program (formerly known as Contract Health Services); funding contract support costs shortfall; and staffing for new/replacement facilities,” according to the budget request to Congress.

It wasn’t all that many years ago that the president’s budget request for IHS was just the beginning of the process. The appropriations committees in the House and Senate would look at the numbers, match it to the need, and in many cases find more money to spend. If it were up to the subcommittee chairs that would still happen. The legislators who are nearest the actually programs and what they do understand the challenge and look for improvements. (more…)

Even in Holbrook

idaho RANDY
The Idaho

If the poet John Donne and the novelist Ernest Hemingway were right, that “no man is an island,” that we should “send not to know/For whom the bell tolls/It tolls for thee,” then we all are damaged by the carnage at Holbrook.

The case has gotten some attention, but so horrific is it that national viral status would almost be expected. It was a case of terror on so many levels.

In Holbrook.

Probably not many Idahoans easily could place Holbrook on a map. It is located about 10 miles west of Malad, in high open field country surrounded by mountains, country well away from population centers. I have driven through it a few times, but never had occasion to stop, partly because there was nothing to stop for, no visible commercial or public activity. It once was a true small town, but not an incorporated city, something places with as few as a dozen people have founded, and for decades has been more a clustering of houses. Population for the area is reported as 400; if you drive through, you may suspect that seems high.

Such places may be remote from metro areas, but the people there are not remote from each other. This isn't a matter of the vaunted small-town snoopiness, but the reality that with fewer people around, with fewer activities and distractions and less traffic, you see what goes on around you.

That's part of what makes the events there so disturbing.

The people who lived at the crime scene were not entirely distant from their community. On March 31, law enforcement officials said, the people in the house that became a crime scene hosted an Easter party. (As of last week, investigators were seeking out anyone who attended.) They might have seen something reportable.

There was plenty to see. A big pack of dogs was housed there – 64 pit pulls were found there about a week ago, with clear indications that at least many of them were being used for dog fighting. That activity, thanks to a recent change in Idaho law, is now a felony, and the reasons for that are not just because of the horrific effects on the dogs: It is often a good indicator that something has gone deeply wrong with the people involved, too. That was outside the house. Inside, investigators found 38 marijuana plants and enough cash to indicate significant trafficking was underway, another indicator of trouble. (more…)

Wherefore art thou, Mr. Chief Justice

rainey BARRETT


As the U.S. Supreme Court wrestles with issues of our sexual differences and their standing in our society, I’m less worried about the ultimate decisions than I am about the connection of the Chief Justice to reality.

There can be little argument DOMA (Defense Of Marriage Act) became a law because of prejudice and bigotry. It was largely born of a narrow belief held by a religious minority which has previously sponsored similar “moral” legislation. Enactment of the California law known as “Prop 8″ came from the same despoiled garden of fear and hatred – and $28 million from the LDS Church. But remarks made by Chief Justice Roberts from the bench during arguments on the two issues seemed to reflect his mental world is one in which no law is created from any soiled motivations.

During general questioning of the DOMA case, Roberts seemed to reject the proposition that Congress could be motivated to create a law – any law – out of discrimination or animus. In fact, during discussion, he and some other Justices appeared ignorant of the roots of DOMA – until Justice Kagan read this part of the law aloud to Solicitor General Verrilli during her questioning.

“Civil laws that permit only heterosexual marriage reflect and honor a collective moral judgment about human sexuality. This judgment entails both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.”

There were gasps in the room,. Then, from the Congressional Record dealing with the committee creation of DOMA, Kagan again quoted:

“…the Committee briefly discusses four of the governmental interests advanced by this legislation: (1) defending and nurturing the institution of traditional, heterosexual marriage; (2) defending traditional notions of morality.”

BOOM! Then silence in the court. After brief subsequent give-and-take between Kagan and Verrilli, Roberts simply said “Thank you” and matters moved on while other Justices wrote lengthy notes to themselves – apparently about what they’d just heard. But not Roberts.

Editor’s Note: Why did so many Justices seem surprised by what Kagan read? Had their law clerks not read all the briefs and summarized for the Court? Didn’t the Justices at least read the law before hearing arguments? Why the hurried note-taking?

Roberts’ personal and judicial history are spotless. There is no doubt of his moral and professional character. But – there is ample evidence of his seeming real world ignorance that less-than-honorable intentions can create bad law. In one case – PICS vs. Seattle School District No. 1 – he wrote “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” He basically dismissed the need for judicial action in the face of demonstrated outright discrimination. His side lost. (more…)

First take: The pledge, Walden’s kerfluffle


THE PLEDGE A solution in search of a problem? A bill now headed to the Oregon House floor would require that every classroom has to conduct a pledge of allegiance - though, per court decisions, students cannot be required to participate - and every one would have to maintain an American flag to salute. What exactly is the problem this is intended to counter?

WALDEN'S KERFLUFFLE Oregon Representative Greg Walden is in the U.S. House leadership and is even in charge of the caucus' campaign committee, which might suggest he's all but immune to intra-party conflict. But not so. A remark critical of cuts to Social Security increases, included in President Obama's proposed budget, drew a sharp rebuke from House Speaker John Boehner and earned Walden a target on his back for the Club for Growth, which indicates it is encouraging a primary challenge for him. As with the Club's targeting of similarly centrally-positioned Mike Simpson in Idaho, this seems like folly, though in-party battles often do have consequences one way or another.

A Democrat reviews the Idaho session

ridenbaugh Northwest

A review of the last Idaho legislative session from Idaho Democratic Chair Larry Kenck.

The 2013 Idaho Legislature exceeded expectations. By that measure, it succeeded. Unfortunately, our expectations are so low for this annual GOP-controlled event that we can call it a success if they don’t accidentally burn down the Capitol.

Let’s look at how they exceeded our expectations.

In December, Idaho’s wealthiest corporate interests had convinced everyone that a $140 million tax shift from big business to homeowners was a virtual certainty. Counties, cities, schools and Idaho Democrats crunched the numbers, rallied, and got the word out. In the end, small and medium-sized businesses saw their personal business property taxes cut without severely harming communities.

That was certainly better than we expected.

The Legislature also birthed a small group of Republicans who stood up to rightwing radicals who are still fighting the Affordable Care Act. This minority of the majority joined Idaho Democrats to help create a state-run health insurance exchange, benefiting consumers and giving Idaho control over insurance options.

That small triumph for moderation was unexpected.

Of course, we always expect some truly awful ideas to emerge from the GOP fringe. And, I suppose it’s fair to credit GOP leaders, along with Idaho Democrats, for killing some terrible legislation. (more…)

First take: Outside anti-levy

THE ANTI-LEVY Revealing piece in the Vancouver Columbian about the source of a campaign against the Battle Ground school district's regular levy: A retired Spokane tire dealer, with a couple of other residents of the city on the far side of the state. What he positions as a crippling tax increase is actually just a replacement for an already-existing levy, to be imposed at a lower rate than the old one. So many ballot issue campaigns degenerate to this.